Chapter Eleven- Johnny on the spot
Nothing teaches you better than the lessons you learn yourself through your own folly. Blake the snake Cole had said to us on that fateful night after the blown showcase. He’d never forgiven us for our unprofessional attitude at the recording studio all those years ago and took the opportunity to shove the knife in further with a twist. It seemed he was always catching us at our worst. I watched him walk away with a smirk as he disappeared into success. It was a growing fog and would elude our attempt to find our way to financial bliss in the coming years. Occasionally, he would taunt us from television interviews, magazine articles, or from the blazing marquees every time his band played the big venues. Like I’d said to Doc, we had no one to blame but ourselves for that night. Not Arsehole Party, not the desertion of Grub, not our crew, management, bar owner . . . nobody. The burden of blame was all on our shoulders.
I’d thought it was the worst day of my life, humiliating and maddening. Blowing a great chance in front of our family and friends. In front of Wally and Apples. In front of Wires and once again, in front of Blake Cole. The defining low point in my life...until this day. Yet I found myself in the same predicament, unable to do anything but lay the blame squarely on my own stupidity. I couldn’t very well accuse Wally for my quandary— the rotting wood, the imbecility of throwing caution to the wind— it was all my actions that had stranded me literally, in shit waist-deep.
I don’t know if you can empathize with the total helplessness I felt? The anxiety of the initial milliseconds as I fell, not knowing if these were my last thoughts on this earth. The shock of a plunge into darkness, or the God awful, foul reek and cold swishing wetness seeping into my shoes. It clung to me like some cathartic leech absorbing my life essence. Was I going to be totally enveloped, sucked into a vacuum of human waste? The quicksand of muck and maggoty infestation stopped pulling me in at the hips and I could still reach the opening. I just couldn’t pull myself up. My legs felt glued; restricted from movement in the mire of repugnant silt. I could feel it seeping into my pores like I was a sponge— cold, wet, sinewy with age. And the smell? I couldn't begin to describe that olfactory invasion. I tried to keep my mind calm and the guttural urgency of my voice to a dull roar. I could see the flashlight on the edge of where I’d fallen. It illuminated the broken floorboards and cast sinister, shadowy fingers upward.
Wally’s face appeared next to it. “Sparky, are you all right?”
“Wally, get me out of here!”
“You’re all right. Good. Uh— God, it stinks.”
“It’s an outhouse Wally. People don’t shit roses!”
He dropped to his belly and extended his arms in to grasp mine. “I thought I’d be immune to this by now? You never get used to it ya know.”
“I’m freaking out down here! It’s the worst. Get me out! You have no idea.”
“Actually I do. The woman with the turtle, the duck and all those cats I was telling you about before— ”
“— Get me out now! Please! Before I lose my fuckin’ mind!”
He tried with great effort, but couldn’t pull me up. “I have to get Doc. I can’t do this alone.” He grunted, his breathing labored.
“Wally, hand me the flashlight.”
“I won’t be able to find my way back. Besides do you really want to see what’s down there? Stay calm Sparky. I’ll be back soon. Mind over matter.”
He was gone. I heard the quickened thud of his footsteps and his fading gasps of air as he scampered away.
Within moments I could see the dancing beam of the flashlight again as the two ran to me. Soon Doc and Wally were both peering in at me from the opening. Wally tried desperately to catch his breath while Doc started to laugh. “Forgive me Sparky, but how the hell did you get down there? Ugh . . . God the smell!”
“Wally and I already established it stinks Doc! Are the broken boards any clue?”
He turned to Wally. “Forget what you’ve seen, this is not the way you use an outhouse.”
“Just get me the fuck out of here!”
“OK hang on there sweat pea. Whew! I thought Wally smelled bad?”
“Too bad we don’t have the Honey-wagon.” Wally wheezed. “I could just drop...the hose in and...suck all the crap out . . .”
“— and Sparky along with it.”
“— or I could...fill it up...for that matter.”
“The fuckin’ Honey-wagon is not an option. GET ME OUT!”
“Sparky, Wally has to consider all the possibilities first. After all, he is the professional shit guy here.”
Together they lowered their hands amid protests of the foul stench and the further yawning of stressed wood. Just fuckin’ marvy, we’re all going to end up down here. They managed to pull me upward. My feet made a horrible wet sucking sound as I was pulled free minus a shoe.
“Ugh . . . ugh!” Doc babbled as he tried to cover his nose with his arm. With one final tug and pull, I had my torso above the ground again. I used my remaining strength, mixed with unbridled panic, to yank my legs up and through the break. The guys backed away from me like I was pork at a Jewish wedding.
“Je-sus Sparky get the hell out of those pants. You smell of death!”
“Yeah, just leave them here.”
Now on safe solid ground, anger took hold of me. I raised my one shoed foot and side-kicked the offending structure. “Motherfucker!” The force, although not great, was enough to topple what still stood. It creaked and fell over with a crash in a jumble of rotted wood. Wally and Doc were besides themselves with laughter, rolling about on the ground. I then ran around trying to get out of my pants and socks like a man on fire, or someone doused in acid now eating through clothes to the skin. I only contributed to their mirth.
“Stop, drop, and roll! Stop, drop and roll!” I threw myself to the ground and flailed about like I’d gone insane. “Stop drop and roll!”
“Sparky, you’re not on fire. Je-sus!”
“I feel like I am!” I erupted. I struggled to get out of my pants. I jumped to my feet. The odor seemed to have life and was marching around my nostrils with vengeance. I wiped my hands on tree trunks and nearby leaves as I shook my legs free of the wet denim. I backed away from the jeans like I’d finally freed myself from the jaws of a Pit Bull.
Doc pleaded, tears running from his eyes. “Oh . . . oh! Sparky stop it.— Wally, make him stop! I’m going to pee myself.”
Wally was in even worse condition and held onto his stomach as he snorted uncontrollably. Later he would confide to me, he’d actually shat himself a little.
Once I had calmed down I followed the advice of my companions and returned to the campsite without my pants, following far behind like the final float in a parade. I walked gingerly in my bare feet and underwear. The spatter of my fecal prison was still on my shirt and hands in spotted atrophy. We returned to the fireside and I stood shivering from my ordeal more than the cold. I pulled close to the fire hoping it would comfort me for both. Doc and Wally were still in fits of giggles, plunking themselves on the ground up wind of my stench.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to look back at this one day and laugh?”
“I’m laughing now!”
“It’s not too late for me to come over and wipe my hands on that yellow shirt of yours.”
“Sorry, it’s just . . .You look so damn ridiculous.”
“Fortunately I don’t have a fashion show to go to.” I mumbled, then sat wallowing in my misery.
Doc perked up. “Is that a car I hear?”
The distant hum of an engine and the rumbling of tires crushing gravel could now be heard by all. It grew steadily in approach and our faces broke into pictures of joy.
Wally marveled. “We’re saved. Thank God!”
Ahead of me I could see a white apparition of a pickup truck emerging behind headlights. It had strips of what looked like green and yellow along the sides. The vehicle slowed as it neared and a third beam, more powerful, joined the first two. It was blinding and we shielded our eyes as it drew closer. There would be no need to flag the truck down. It stopped immediately in front of us. The pickup sat dormant for a few seconds and then the doors swung open like outstretched wings. Two men jumped from it both brandishing rifles. Firearms were once again pointed at our faces.
Voices commanded out of the darkness. “Nobody move! Stay right where you are!”
Our arms slowly found the air. Doc and Wally still from a seated position. We froze in our tracks. Oh no what the hell have we gotten ourselves into now?